Alana Sunness Griffith was plenty grateful when she learned of her nomination as a Distinguished Member of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) earlier this year. When she later learned the importance of her nomination in particular, her level of appreciation spiked even more.

alanaempirehouseGriffith, vice president of Empirehouse—a Mounds View, Minn.-based specialty glazing contractor—was given the prestigious honor during the Construct 2014 Convention last month in Baltimore, Md. At that moment, CSI officially had its first female distinguished member in the organization’s history, which dates back to 1959.

Griffith discovered she was the first female distinguished member just a few weeks prior to the ceremony. She was looking through all of the past nominations to see when the few instances in which two people were nominated at the same time were. As she was scanning the full list, however, she realized they were all male names.

“It really was quite overwhelming for me to discover,” she says. “… I am honored and humbled.”

According to CSI, the recognition is “conferred on individuals who have performed distinguished services to the construction industry in fields of activity related to the purpose of CSI.”

Griffith has been a member of CSI for more than 30 years and has been active at the Chapter, Region and Institute levels. In 1996, she was elevated to a Fellow in CSI, and in 1999-2000, she was elected as the first subcontractor to serve as the organization’s president. She was the second female president in the history of the organization.

The meaning of her distinguished member nomination is fitting given the history of the company with which she’s spent her career. Empirehouse is a woman-owned business and essentially has been that way since Griffith’s mother- and father-in-law, Betty and John, started it in 1950. Betty was part-owner from the start.

“It’s a point of pride,” says Griffith. “Women have always been interlaced in our organization.”

Griffith started full-time with Empirehouse in 1974 and has since worked side-by-side with her now sister-in-law. She has done everything with the company since—writing press releases in the beginning before working her way into more office duties, including billing and customer service.

The customer service experience, Griffith says, started leading her into other interests within the company, and she began doing project management and increased her work with architects.

Working her way up through a male-dominated industry posed many challenges—not within her company itself, but rather when she was out on jobs trying to prove herself.

“When you look at this industry, it truly has been a man’s world for a very long time,” she says. “Women need to be very durable, very knowledgeable. They have to continuously press forward in doing their job extremely well.

“In construction, there are lot of demands and emotion involved because of deadlines, high expectations and the need for good information on job sites. Being able to withstand that pressure is absolutely essential in order to succeed.”

However, with more than four decades of industry experience, much of it in various leadership positions, Griffith believes she has “become neutral.”

“Now, it’s not about gender. It’s about what I know, who I know and how to get it done,” she says, adding that “Today, a woman can walk into a job trailer and not a single head turns anymore.”

According to a recent study by the Department of Labor, women account for nine percent of the entire construction industry—an industry in which Griffith sees a bright future for females. However, she stresses the importance of educating young people—male and female, alike—on the plethora of opportunity within the industry and how a broad range of skill sets can fit into the many different roles in construction.

Furthermore, Griffith encourages young women to not be steered by the social norms of the past and perception that the industry is only for men. After all, she’s proof that they make hard hats for women, too.